Final

Falcons 28

(10-2, 4-2 away)

Buccaneers 24

(7-5, 3-3 home)

Coverage: FOX

4:15 PM ET, December 5, 2010

Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL 

1 2 3 4 T
ATL 7 7 0 1428
TB 7 7 3 724

Top Performers

Passing: M. Ryan (ATL) - 205 YDS, 2 TD, 2 INT

Rushing: L. Blount (TB) - 20 CAR, 103 YDS, 1 TD

Receiving: R. White (ATL) - 7 REC, 74 YDS

Eric Weems, Matt Ryan rally Falcons past Bucs in 4th

Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. -- Matt Ryan played fairly ordinary before Matty Ice came through again for the Atlanta Falcons.

The streaking NFC South leaders won their sixth straight game Sunday, with Ryan finishing another fourth-quarter rally to help the Falcons (10-2) retain sole possession of first place with a 28-24 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"When you come out and you don't play as well as you like, but you still find a way to win, those are signs of a good football team," Ryan said. "We feel like today was a good example of that for us."

Ryan threw two interceptions -- Atlanta's first turnovers in five games -- but was at his best with the game on the line. As usual.

The third-year pro finished his sixth fourth-quarter, game-winning drive of the season with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins with 4:31 remaining. It's the 13th time in his career that he's led a winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime.

Eric Weems got the comeback from a 10-point deficit started by scoring on a 102-yard kickoff return. Brent Grimes sealed the win with an interception that stopped Tampa Bay's final possession deep in Falcons territory.

"The mindset was the same. We felt like we could go down the field and score," Ryan said. "We're confident in that situation. We've been in those situations a number of times this year. ... Nobody panicked because we understand that we can make plays when we need to."

Ryan kept the 10-play, 67-yard march alive with a 25-yard completion to Roddy White on third-and-20. The Falcons, who stayed one game ahead of New Orleans in the division, also benefited from a couple of costly penalties on the Bucs.

"We felt like we really outplayed them for most of the game, but it's the NFL," Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman said. "You have to find a way to win in the fourth quarter nearly every week, and today we weren't able to do that."

Rookie LeGarrette Blount rushed for 103 yards and fullback Earnest Graham threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to John Gilmore for Tampa Bay (7-5), which is 7-0 against teams with losing records compared to 0-5 against opponents with winning marks.

Ryan completed 18 of 36 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns. The pair of interceptions were his first since a 39-32 win over Cincinnati on Oct. 24.

The third-year pro, who drove Atlanta to a game-winning field goal in the final minute of last week's three-point win over Green Bay, threw a 17-yard TD pass to Ovie Mughelli in the second quarter. Michael Turner rushed for 88 yards for the Falcons and scored on a 5-yard run that gave Atlanta an early 7-0 lead.

"Sometimes you've got to find a way to win a game when you're not at your best, and we obviously didn't play our best ballgame today," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "We were down by 10 points with about 10 minutes to go. We talk all the time about being resilient and somebody has to step up and make a play. The play today was the play of our kickoff return team, and a great individual effort by Eric Weems."

Freeman was 19 of 38 for 181 yards and one touchdown for the third-place Bucs, who fell three games behind Atlanta in the division.

Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris didn't take solace in the NFL's youngest team playing the Falcons tough for the second time in a month.

"I think a good or great team, they go out and finish games," Morris said. "We're not going to wait until we become a veteran team to go out and try to finish games. We've got to do it the next four weeks."

The Bucs wore orange throwback jerseys from their expansion days in the late 1970's, and the team's first coach, John McKay, was inducted into the franchise's Ring of Honor at halftime. McKay's son, Rich, is the Falcons president and was Tampa Bay's general manager when the club won its only Super Bowl title eight years ago.

Atlanta had gone a franchise-record four consecutive weeks without a turnover before Ryan overthrew intended receiver Tony Gonzalez and safety Sean Jones returned his first interception of the season 31 yards to the Atlanta 30 to change the momentum of the game.

Seven plays later, Freeman's 1-yard TD throw to Williams tied it at 14 with 15 seconds left before halftime.

Connor Barth's 33-yard field goal snapped the tie early in the third quarter. Corey Lynch's interception at the Atlanta 39 led to Graham's TD pass to Gilmore that gave the Bucs a short-lived 24-14 lead.

Weems took the ensuing kickoff 2 yards deep in his own end zone, slipped past two diving tacklers as he made his way to the sideline at about 25, then somehow stayed in bounds as he headed up the sideline in front of the Atlanta bench and ran into the clear.

"That was huge. An unbelievable change of momentum," Ryan said. "They go down and they score and put us behind two scores. Immediately following that, we run the kick back. Special teams jump-started us today. We know in this league, especially on the road, you're going to have to find different ways to win week in and week out."

Game notes


The Falcons have won five straight in the intense division rivalry, with four of the games decided by six points or less. Atlanta won an earlier meeting this season 27-21 when Blount was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1 from the Falcons 2 with just under 2 minutes to go. ... Bucs played much of the game without cornerback Aqib Talib, who left in the second quarter with a hip injury. Center Jeff Faine left in the second half with a triceps injury.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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Team Stat Comparison

 
ATL
TB
1st Downs2019
Passing 1st downs
1210
Rushing 1st downs
58
1st downs from penalties
31
3rd down efficiency
6-115-15
4th down efficiency
0-01-1
Total Plays6369
Total Yards290325
Yards per play4.64.7
Total Drives1312
Passing205174
Comp-Att
18-3620-39
Yards per pass
5.74.4
Interceptions thrown
21
Sacks-Yards Lost
0-01-9
Rushing85151
Rushing Attempts
2729
Yards per rush
3.15.2
Red Zone (Made-Att)3-43-4
Penalties6-559-102
Turnovers21
Fumbles lost
00
Interceptions thrown
21
Defensive / Special Teams TDs10
Possession28:0032:00

Passing Leaders

ATLC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Ryan18/362055.7220-0
TBC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Freeman19/381814.8111-9
Graham1/122.0100-0

Rushing Leaders

ATLCARYDSAVGTDLG
Turner24883.7111
Ryan3-3-1.00-1
TBCARYDSAVGTDLG
Blount201035.2128
Freeman4287.0017

Receiving Leaders

ATLRECYDSAVGTDLG
White77410.6025
Gonzalez33812.7017
TBRECYDSAVGTDLG
Williams66811.3121
Stroughter5397.8019

Scoring Summary

FIRST QUARTERATLTB
atlTD6:29Michael Turner 5 Yard Run (Matt Bryant Kick is Good)
Drive info: 6 plays, 52 yds, 3:16
70
tbTD0:31Legarrette Blount 6 Yard Run (Connor Barth Kick is Good)
Drive info: 11 plays, 86 yds, 5:58
77
SECOND QUARTERATLTB
atlTD4:46Ovie Mughelli 17 Yard Pass From Matt Ryan (Matt Bryant Kick is Good)
Drive info: 8 plays, 60 yds, 2:34
147
tbTD0:20Mike Williams 1 Yard Pass From Josh Freeman (Connor Barth Kick is Good)
Drive info: 7 plays, 30 yds, 1:24
1414
THIRD QUARTERATLTB
tbFG11:41Connor Barth 33 Yard Field Goal is Good
Drive info: 8 plays, 51 yds, 3:26
1417
FOURTH QUARTERATLTB
tbTD10:30John Gilmore 2 Yard Pass From Earnest Graham (Connor Barth Kick is Good)
Drive info: 4 plays, 39 yds, 2:00
1424
atlTD10:24Eric Weems 102 Yard Kickoff Return (Matt Bryant Kick is Good)
Drive info: 1 plays, 102 yds, 0:00
2124
atlTD4:36Michael Jenkins 9 Yard Pass From Matt Ryan (Matt Bryant Kick is Good)
Drive info: 10 plays, 67 yds, 3:59
2824

Research Notes

Matt Ryan entered Sunday's game as the highest-rated passer in the NFL on throws 11-20 yards downfield (minimum 50 attempts). However, even against a Buccaneers defense that was missing safety Cody Grimm and lost cornerback Aqib Talib early in the second quarter to a hip injury, Ryan struggled throwing intermediate and long routes. Ryan was uncharacteristically aggressive in throwing 11+ yards downfield as 47 percent of his attempts went that far, up from his season average of 30 percent.
  [+]
NEXT-LEVEL: Falcons' cornerback Brent Grimes gave Josh Freeman all that he could handle down the right sideline on Sunday. The Buccaneers' quarterback attempted seven passes on Sunday that were defended or intercepted, the most against Freeman this season. Grimes accounted for four of the seven pass breakups and intercepted a Freeman pass down the right sideline late to seal the victory and possibly the division for the Falcons.
  [+]
The Falcons were missing both backup running backs Jason Snelling and Antone Smith, leaving the entirety of the rushing game to Michael Turner. Turner, who entered the game averaging over four yards-per-carry in each direction, couldn't get it going on runs to the left. Turner averaged just 1.4 yards per attempt on 10 rushes to the left.
For just the third time this season, the Falcons' defense forced an opposing quarterback out of the pocket six times or more. It was the best game of the season for the Falcons defending outside-the-pocket throws, holding Josh Freeman to zero completions on six attempts.
The 102-yard kickoff return TD by Eric Weems is the longest TD of any kind in Falcons history. The previous long was 101 yards on an interception return by Tom Pridemore on Sept. 20, 1981. It's the first kickoff return TD by the Falcons since Allen Rossum on Dec. 15, 2002 -- a 91-yard return vs Seahawks.

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